The impacts of invaders: Basal and acute stress glucocorticoid profiles and immune function in native lizards threatened by invasive ants

Sean P. Graham, Nicole A. Freidenfelds, Gail L. McCormick, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations


As anthropogenic stressors increase exponentially in the coming decades, native vertebrates will likely face increasing threats from these novel challenges. The success or failure of the primary physiological mediator of these stressors-the HPA axis-will likely involve numerous and chaotic outcomes. Among the most challenging of these new threats are invasive species. These have the capacity to simultaneously challenge the HPA axis and the immune system as they are often associated with, or the cause of, emerging infectious diseases, and energetic tradeoffs with the HPA response can have immunosuppressive effects. To determine the effects of invasive species on the vertebrate GC response to a novel stressor, and on immunity, we examined the effects of invasive fire ants on native lizards, comparing lizards from sites with long histories with fire ants to those outside the invasion zone. We demonstrated higher baseline and acute stress (captive restraint) CORT levels in lizards from within fire ant invaded areas; females are more strongly affected than males, suggesting context-specific effects of invasion. We found no effect of fire ant invasion on the immune parameters we measured (complement bacterial lysis and antibody hemagglutination) with the exception of ectoparasite infestation. Mites were far less prevalent on lizards within fire ant invaded sites, suggesting fire ants may actually benefit lizards in this regard. This study suggests that invasive species may impose physiological stress on native vertebrates, but that the consequences of this stress may be complicated and unpredictable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)400-408
Number of pages9
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology

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